Cold Weather and Heart – The arrival of colder temperatures can pose significant problems or complications for older adults, especially those with heart disease. Because it is the leading cause of death worldwide, high-risk individuals, above all, should take precautions when temperatures drop.
Did you know that winter can bring an increased risk of heart problems?
Studies show that Americans may be up to thirty percent more likely to have a heart attack in the colder months of winter compared to the warmer months throughout the year. Even individuals in generally good health are at risk.
Next, we will explain why some people call winter “the heart attack season” and what we can do to reduce the risks.
Cold weather affects your heart in different ways. Your circulatory system undergoes physical changes in response to the cold. Also, you may be less active in the winter and opt to stay inside to relax and keep warm. So, you may exercise your body and heart less than you should, or none.
Here is what may happen to your heart during the cold months:
Narrowed Blood Vessels
Typically, when you exercise or are physically active, your blood vessels open up to give your body the extra oxygen it needs for your work. But with cold weather, your blood vessels shrink, making it harder for blood to get to your heart.
This situation is especially a concern if you already have plaque buildup in your blood vessels. If the cold shrinks vessels already partially blocked by plaque buildup, blood is more likely to be unable to reach the heart and rest of the body, which can lead to a heart attack.
Research suggests that moving from the heat inside to the cold outside can make plaque buildup more significant and less stable, resulting in an even greater risk of heart attacks.
Raised Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure inside your arteries. Because cold weather constricts blood vessels, so your heart must work harder to deliver blood where it needs to. This situation means that cold weather can contribute to increased blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is usually normal, a temporary rise in blood pressure probably is not a big deal. But if you always have high blood pressure, it can lead to sudden blockage of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Raised Pulse Rate
Have you noticed that your heart beats faster when it is cold? Cold weather may affect your heart rate because when the temperature drops, your heart must work harder to keep your body warm, which causes your heart rate to increase.
While a fast heart rate is not a warning of a heart attack or heart disease, it can indicate that your heart is working too hard and needs a break.
Cold Weather Lifestyles That Increase the Risk of Heart Disease
It is no surprise that most individuals would rather curl up under a blanket on the couch than take a long winter walk when it is minus five degrees. But we are also more likely to eat greasy comfort food and drink more alcohol, holiday drinks, and cocktails. And if moderation disappears, these choices are unsuitable for a heart-healthy diet.
These behaviors may lead to unhealthy weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure changes and increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Risky Cold Weather and Winter Activities
Since the cardiovascular system does not work as well in cold temperatures, does that mean you should only exercise indoors during winter? The answer is no. It simply means you should pay attention to your body when you are skiing, sledding, skating, snowshoeing, or doing other activities that put extra strain on your heart.
This extra strain is especially true when shoveling snow, an activity related to many cold-weather heart attacks.
Can Shoveling Snow Increase the Risk of Heart Attack?
Why is shoveling snow dangerous for the heart? Because it is an exercise for which ordinary people should get trained. But, in most cases, people who throw snow shovels are not on their way to an athletic tournament.
Instead, shoveling snow is the responsibility of regular individuals who are not used to lifting and throwing hundreds of pounds. This situation alone makes scooping a big challenge for most heartthrobs. But because of the cold weather, the reduced blood flow makes it even harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.
Additionally, your risk of heart attack increases if your heart can’t get enough oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. Because of that, you will want to be careful when shoveling snow, especially if you have heart disease or any significant risk factors for heart attacks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
These risk factors are more common than you think. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remarked that about half of Americans have one or more major heart attack risk factors.
Ways of Reducing the Risk of Heart Attack in Cold Weather
Of course, we know your sidewalk will not shovel itself, and you want to make the most of your winter season, right? Here are some hints on how to stay healthy and active during cold weather to prevent heart attacks:
Dress in Layers
If you go outdoors, dress according to the weather and the activity you are doing. Wearing clothes in layers allows you to remove layers as your activity level increases. You want to stay warm but do not want to overheat. If you feel like you are sweating, it is wise to start by taking off a layer and then taking a break to cool down.
Modify Your Routine
Invest in a snow blower machine, particularly if you have a long driveway. But if you need to shovel, get out before the snow accumulates. Then do it slowly, in short sessions.
Give Yourself a Break
If possible, hire a neighborhood kid or someone who may need to earn some extra money. Offloading responsibility is an excellent idea if you have heart disease, have already had a heart attack, or are not especially active year-round.
Take Water Breaks
Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks when exercising. Dehydration makes it more challenging for your body to stay warm, making it easier for your blood to clot.
Ease Into Outdoor Physical Activity
Even if you are fit, start exercising slowly when in cold weather so your body can adapt to working out in the cold. Try some light exercise once you are outside, such as stretching or running in place. If you don’t want to bundle up for an outdoor walk, walk around the mall or join a gym.
Be Particularly Careful if You Have a Known Heart Condition
The truth is cold winter weather and heart conditions are not a good combination. Take it easy if you have a heart condition or have already had a heart attack. Working with a physician can help you gain confidence in exercising for heart health and help you prepare for cold weather.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
These beverages increase blood pressure, so you should pay attention to how much you drink before heading outdoors.
Quit Smoking or Vaping
Tobacco products may increase blood pressure and cause plaque buildup. Quitting smoking is one of the best moves you can make for your heart.
Eat a Heart-healthy Diet
Continue to watch what you eat and drink, focusing on foods for good cholesterol levels and foods to lower blood pressure.
Keep Up With Routine Preventive Care
From flu shots to annual check-ups, keeping up with preventive care helps you stay healthier and can help you catch potential problems earlier, being easier to treat.
Recognize the signs that your heart is having trouble keeping up and you need to slow down and get help.
Whether you have finished working out in the snow or are resting, chest pain is the most typical warning sign of cardiovascular problems and heart attack. People frequently describe chest pain as central chest tightness, heaviness, heartburn, or burning, which can spread to the jaw, neck, arms, back of the chest, or upper part of the stomach.
Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, excessive sweating, and nausea.
Stop and take a break immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms. However, it is best to take a break even earlier once you notice your heart beating faster than usual.
If you think you are experiencing a heart attack, follow these steps:
At Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we are here to answer vital questions about conditions that could affect your heart. Our team of expert cardiologists is here to help you manage, prevent, and treat all aspects of cardiovascular disease.
We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice. For more information, contact us.
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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.
We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.
Every heart has a story… What’s yours?
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At the Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care with innovative diagnostic tools and compassionate patient care. Our priority at Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is prevention. We help patients lead healthier lives by avoiding unnecessary procedures and surgeries.
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This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.
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